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Johnny’s neighbor left for a week in the Bahamas. Johnny knew that his neighbors recently purchased a new entertainment system: a T.V., the latest play station, and speakers. In the middle of the night, he drove his old truck to the neighbor’s house and walked around the perimeter in search of an easy entrance. As luck would have it, the backdoor was unlocked! He slowly turned the doorknob, opened the door, and flipped a light switch. He walked through the house, room-to-room, in search of any other items that he may want to take. When he entered a guest bedroom, a woman screamed. Startled, Johnny struggled to run out of the house when he fell and hit his head. The woman, a hired house sitter, called the police, and Johnny was charged with burglary.
There are two parts to the crime of burglary:
1. Unlawful entrance into any portion of a building or occupied structure at any time, day or night; and
2. Intent to commit a crime.
Contrary to popular understanding, burglary does not require actual theft or another criminal act but only the intent to commit a crime. The intent to commit a crime can happen before or after entrance into the building. For example, if Johnny unlawfully enters the neighbor’s house on a dare or youthful curiosity but then decides to steal some items, he is committing burglary.
Burglary also does not require any physical breaking and entering but mere unlawful entrance. For example, even though Johnny entered through an unlocked backdoor, he still entered unlawfully. This unlawful entrance and his intent to commit a crime, or theft in his case, qualify as a burglary.
Conspiracy to commit a burglary occurs when two or more people agree to commit a crime or aid the commission of the crime or agree to solicit someone else to commit the crime. If there are five conspirators to the same crime, only one felony charge will be made. Therefore, all parties to the same event are charged the same regardless of their respective roles.
Let’s assume that David, Johnny’s friend, was the one who told Johnny about the neighbor’s new entertainment system and provided Johnny with the truck for hauling the stolen goods. Because he aided and helped plan the burglary, David is a conspirator. Even though David’s participation was minimal, he will be charged with the same felony grade (e.g. first-degree felony) as Johnny.
If an individual is charged with burglary, there are several possible defenses depending on the facts of the case.
1. The building is abandoned.
An abandoned building is one that is forsaken and deserted.
2. The building is open to the public.
If the individual entered a public building during its hours of operation, then he has lawfully entered the building.
3. No intent to commit a crime.
If the individual unlawfully entered a building but had no intent to commit a crime, then he has not committed a burglary but may be charged with trespassing.
4. Consent by owner to enter the property.
If the individual had the owner’s permission to enter the property or otherwise had a license to enter, then no burglary was committed.
There are several factors that affect sentencing for burglary: for example, was the building an accommodation for overnight stay (e.g. a house) and was an innocent person also present? In Johnny’s case, he burglarized a home when an innocent person was present. This is a first-degree felony, and he could be incarcerated for up to 20 years and fined a maximum of $25,000. If the building was not equipped for overnight accommodation (e.g. a store) and no innocent party was present, then a second-degree felony was committed and the perpetrator can be incarcerated for up to ten years and fined a maximum amount of ,000.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help with possible defenses, proper analysis of evidence, and access to expert witnesses when needed. Contact an attorney if you are faced with burglary charges.